Innovation in Retina

150 million aging eyes spell opportunity


The Second Annual OIS Forum: 150 Million Aging Eyes Spell Opportunity

Pravin U. Dugel, MD • Emmett T. Cunningham, Jr, MD, PhD, MPH

As we welcome 2011, let us also note that this year begins the decade when the US “baby boomer” generation, estimated at 78 million strong, starts to turn 65. Tens of millions more will be reaching their seventh decade internationally. What this means is that 25% of the US population, or roughly 150 million eyes, will be at increased risk for disorders of the elderly, such as cataract, glaucoma and macular degeneration. It is a strong and defining trend that will continue for decades to come.

This is an amazing demographic that has caught the attention of innovative companies large and small that seek to develop the next generation of ophthalmic pharmaceuticals and devices. The opportunity now for companies to do well financially by doing good for society has never been greater.

Recognizing the strong current interest in ophthalmic innovation, the second annual Ophthalmic Innovation Summit (OIS; took place in Chicago just prior to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The event, organized by the International Business Forum and co-chaired by venture capital notables Bill Link, Gil Kliman and one of the co-authors of this column, Emmett Cunningham, brought together nearly 600 CEOs, corporate R&D executives, venture investors, physicians and academic scientists, with attendance with attendance up by about 50% from the first OIS, held in 2009 in San Francisco.

The goal of OIS is to support ophthalmic innovation by facilitating deal-flow and business partnerships. The format of the recent summit provided each of 12 device and 13 biotech/pharmaceutical companies the opportunity to make a crisp eight-minute presentation to the group, with the aim of attracting positive attention for their concepts, leading to business partnerships and possibly additional venture capital investment. All of the 25 companies that presented at the symposium are privately owned, with many already backed by at least one venture capital firm.


Individual company presentations spanned the ophthalmic spectrum from refractive to cataract to glaucoma to retina. For the posterior segment, the companies represented therapeutic and diagnostic concepts that addressed both large and small patient populations.

For example, three companies that presented — Second Sight Medical Products, Intelligent Medical Implants and Retina Implant A — are each devoted to employing retinal implants to restore some functional sight to the blind, primarily patients with retinitis pigmentosa, LCA, advanced AMD and other visually debilitating diseases. The number of patients suitable for such treatments may be limited, but the benefits to each individual, and to society at large, would be great.

Realistically, venture capitalists must take these real-world factors into account when deciding to make financial commitments to developmental-stage companies. In addition, the potential for this technology to expand into other more common diseases, such as AMD, is enormous.

Another posterior-segment company, OD-OS, presented its innovative retinal navigation system, called Navilas. Company CEO Winfried Teiwes predicted that Navilas will soon become “the standard of care in the posterior segment” because of capabilities that combine both diagnostic and therapeutic functions. According to Dr. Teiwes, Navilas's attributes include higher accuracy in targeting and laser guidance, greater comfort for the patient and physician, increased safety, transparency in documenting the effects of therapy, and shorter treatment times.

Navilas has attained both the CE Mark and FDA approval and is currently being directly marketed in both the US and Europe.


For the posterior segment, presenters included companies addressing AMD, such as Eyetech, Opthotech and Taligen; companies involved in inflammatory eye disease, such as Lux Biosciences (uveitis) and SARcode (dry eye and diabetic retinopathy), and companies creating innovative drug-delivery systems, such as EyeGate Pharmaceuticals (iontopheresis), Neurotech (implantable bio-reactor targeting AMD and DME) and OnDemand Therapeutics (an innovative, unique injectable drug delivery device that allows for multiple hermetically sealed drugs to be activated by standard laser shots “on demand” by the physician).

The promise of sustained drug delivery for retinal diseases lies in fewer injections, reduced patient visits and lower incidence of injection-related complications, all resulting in greater practice efficiency. This area is particularly important, as studies (such as the HORIZON extension trial) show that more durable (perhaps indefinite) anti-VEGF injections are required, as physicians' reimbursement for injections and almost all office-based codes has been drastically reduced.


The 2011 OIS will be held on October 20 in Orlando, immediately prior to the annual AAO meeting. On February 23, the Retinal Physician Symposium in Las Vegas will feature a half-day “Innovation Session,” with discussions from private and public companies, entrepreneurs and-investors. RP

Pravin U. Dugel, MD, is managing partner of Retinal Consultants of Arizona in Phoenix and founding member of Spectra Eye Institute in Sun City. Emmett T. Cunningham, Jr., MD, PhD, MPH, is a partner at Clarus Ventures (a sponsor of the Ophthalmology Innovation Summit), director of the uveitis service at California Pacific Medical Center and adjunct professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University. He also sees patients at West Coast Retina Medical Group in San Francisco. Dr. Dugel can be reached at